Wednesday, May 19, 2004

It's about time.

Few days ago, I was riding a cap from work to my home. The driver as expected tried to start a chat. I was too tired and not in the mood to join him. There was a traffic jam that obviously annoyed him and the weather was hot as expected in a May noon. He said, "Baghdad has become impossible" this has become a usual phrase to start a conversation. It’s the synonym for the British “looks like a nice weather today”. I was becoming sick of complaints that usually start with this phrase. I said to myself, "Oh my god not another American hater" I didn’t want to reply but I thought it might help to pass time so I answered, “When was Baghdad ‘possible’?” the driver replied, “yes, life was always hard but these days they’ve become intolerable”
-Because of the Americans, you mean?

-No, of course not. Because of the difficulties in work.

-What do you mean? I know that you now charge double or triple the fees while cars and spare parts are cheaper now than ever.

-Yes, but the hours we can work in have decreased considerably because of the bad security conditions.

-What bad security conditions!? You are still afraid that someone might rob your car and get away with it in such a traffic jam??

-Of course not, but I can’t work for a late hour.

-I understand your fears but I always have known this place to be busy until midnight.

-That’s true but not in my neighborhood, so I have to go back much earlier than that

-Where do you live?

-In Sadr city.

-Oh I see, but what do you think the cause of this insecurity?

-Is that a question?? They are those thugs and thieves.

-Who are those?!

-Sadr followers.

-I agree, but I don’t understand your people there. Why do they support them!?

-Do you really believe that?? I swear to God they are no more than a couple of thousands terrorizing millions and hiding behind slogans like jihad and resistance. The whole city has got sick and tired of their doings. We just want to work, feed our children and take a break. We are tired of all this bullshit. They can’t deceive us anymore.
This idiot is taking advantage of his father’s name and we know the people who are gathering around him. Most of them are gangsters and ex-convicts with some foolish teenagers. They are anything but Muslims. Every now and then one of these cowards come hiding his face and fire against the American troops and when the Americans respond innocents get hurt.
I was encouraged by his attitude and asked:
-Why don’t you try to do something about it?

-Who says we aren’t? I’m one of the people who reported some members of the Mahdi army to the IP and now they are in prison.

-Really!? God bless you. That was brave of you. These people really belong there.

-Sure they do! Did this idiot forget who killed his father!? And who took his revenge? Could he have ever raised his voice if it wasn’t for the same people whom he’s fighting now? Well let the Iranians help him now! Believe me brother when I say that the majority of Sadr city people are grateful for the Americans. We didn’t fire a bullet at them when they entered our city. We gave them the reception of liberators and they are. Why would we fight them now!?

From my experience, I kind of believed him. I worked as a resident doctor in one of the major hospitals in Sadr city for about 6 months at Saddam’s times, and I can say that there were many lost youths there who didn’t know what to do with their lives out of poverty and oppression, and some of them ended being part of the criminal world. Yet along with this dark picture, there were always good and simple people who worked and toiled day and night for a decent life and these were the majority among those I met. Most of those were old men and women.
I witnessed one of those days a scene that I will never forget. A middle aged man was selling Pepsi on the sidewalk near the hospital where I worked, as many people there selling cigarettes and different stuff taking benefit of the high activity and traffic near the hospital and since obviously they couldn’t afford to buy or rent a store. Suddenly there was a big clamor and people were shouting, collecting all what they can and running away. It appeared that there was a patrol of city hall inspectors to watch for any violation. Everyone was gone with his or her goods except this guy who was selling Pepsi. His goods were too heavy to carry and he stood there with desperation and bewilderment on his face. The police reached to his place and the officer looked at him sternly as he said “don’t you know it’s prohibited to use the sidewalk to sell anything?” the guy was totally helpless. His face turned pale and it was as if he was going to be executed. He pleaded to the officer and said, “May god bless you Sir. I had to borrow money to buy these, and I have a family to feed. This is my first day in this job and I haven’t paid what I owe people yet. Please spare me this time so that I can pay the people their money back and I promise I’ll never do it again” he was literally crying and chocking with tears as he managed to say these words. The officer showed no sign that he even cared to hear and ordered his men to smash all the bottles. The poor guy sat there crying as he watched what seemed to be his last hope in an honest life going down the drain. He couldn’t take it anymore and shouted at them “HOW AM I GOING TO FEED MY KIDS?? Do you want me to become a thief!?” the officer looked at him shocked and said “how dare you?? One more word and you’ll never see the light again, you dog” I don’t know what happened to that man, but I would be surprised if he didn’t become a criminal.
After the war, most of the people of Sadr city were so happy; they got rid of their oppressor, they enjoyed freedom of speech and performing their religious ceremonies. Most important is that the raise in the average income opened the door for the private businesses, including the small ones, to prosper. Young men can make a good living by several means without resorting to violence or breaking the law. Things were going just fine and improving when young Sadr started his revolt. Sadr city became insecure again and businesses were damaged seriously as a result. In the early days of that revolt, people sympathized with that idiot because they loved his father, but as his followers’ behavior became intolerable and as the lives of people and their jobs were jeopardized, they lost all sympathy with him and all they want now is peace so that they can go back to their works again.
That taxi driver was not the only one from Sadr city with such opinion. Most of the people I’ve met lately expressed the same view. The only people, who don’t want Muqtada to be arrested, are the senior She’at clerics including Sistani. This may look strange when put in context with the relation they have with Iran’s puppet. He always harassed them and tried to take the lead in the streets. He even tried to force Sistani to leave Iraq. Yet, they don’t want him to be arrested. They wouldn’t care much if he was killed, in fact some of them are fighting him already (Thulfiqar organization, another name to Badr legion) but arresting him would be a serious blow to them.
Those clerics do not sympathies with Sadr out of religious sentiments. They know very well that he’s not a pious guy and they often hate each other as they compete to gain the trust and lead of the common people. This meant huge money in the past and now it means money and power as some of them have entered politics now. Why would they care so much then?
I think the answer lies in one fact. There’s an unwritten law in most of the countries with considerable She’at presence that has always considered the clerics to be immune to the law. This doesn’t apply to all clerics, but only the very senior ones. With time, this law has expanded to protect most popular clerics. Now, Muqtada is certainly not a senior cleric, but his family name and the sacrifices they gave, gave him some holy shape in the eyes of some of the She’at. If this guy was arrested, this law would not be literally broken, but the event will have the same effect. Meaning every cleric will know that he is not above the law. This will be an innovation that will shake all clerics with political ambitions. Hence all this crap about "red lines" winch is no more than a big lie that should fool no one. People will certainly be saddened and some would be outraged if the holy shrines were affected, but their care about their lives and jobs certainly is more. Most She'at Iraqis are sentimental when it comes to religion, but not to that degree. The operation should go on with great care however, and will put all those hypocrites in their right places. No more adventures and no more Mahdi armies. This revolt can actually act as an immunization against more serious ones in the future that is if it was dealt with in the proper way. The patience of the coalition has paid its fruits and Muqtada should be *arrested* but certainly not killed and now, in my opinion, is the right time.

By Ali.

No comments: